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MORGAN – Canada’s hospital system is ill-prepared for COVID-19 crisis

THE LIBERAL GOVERNMENT’S plan to use Canada’s “fiscal firepower” to help Canadian families and businesses weather the COVID-19 pandemic has been appropriately termed “a measured well-targeted response” by the Fraser Institute. But no amount of cash can change the terrible reality that Canada’s health-care system is one of the least prepared to deal with the crisis.

Decades before COVID-19 struck, Canadians in every province and territory were suffering, and some dying, on ever-lengthening wait lists.

In an already overloaded system with virtually zero spare capacity, treating burgeoning numbers of COVID-19 patients will necessitate further delay for other patients with time-critical afflictions such as cancer.

And that’s already happening. Over the past few days, two Ontario women had their cancer surgeries cancelled so hospitals can free up capacity for COVID-19 patients.

Canada’s hospital capacity has been in steady decline. The latest available statistics comparing 24 developed countries show that in 2017, Canada ranked dead last in hospital beds per capita at just 2.5 per thousand. Germany, Austria, Hungary, Czech Republic, Lithuania, France, Slovakia, Belgium and Latvia all had more than twice that number.

The U.S. was only marginally better at 2.8 but that’s where the similarity ends.

The occupancy level of Canada’s hospital beds was 92 per cent. That effectively means zero unused capacity since logistics and staffing issues make 100 per cent utilization impossible.

By contrast, hospital bed occupancy in the U.S. was 64 per cent. And for ICU critical care beds, crucial for COVID-19 treatment, the U.S. ranked first of the 24 countries with 35 per 100,000 population. Canada has only 12 per 100,000, the same number as overwhelmed Italy.

With infections rising each day, Canadian doctors face the daunting prospect of deciding who will be treated and who won’t. Those life-and-death decisions must be made not only for patients with COVID-19 but for other seriously ill patients who are displaced.

An October 2019 Fraser Institute report on health care in 28 countries found that Canada ranks second highest in per-capita spending but last in access to treatment. How could this have been allowed to happen?

When the crisis ends, that’s a question Canadians grieving for their lost loved ones will want answered.

But the answer is already clear. Canada is the only country in the world that outlaws private health care. Prime ministers, premiers and health-care administrators have known for years that our government-run monopoly system was suffering from the dual afflictions of unsustainable cost growth and ever-lengthening wait lists.

Meanwhile, anti-private sector unions and other entrenched interests vigorously perpetuated the myth that Canada has the world’s best health system and engendered based fear of ‘for-profit’ health care.

Hearkening back to world wars, Canadian industry is being asked to retool to produce the ventilators and other equipment needed to treat COVID-19 victims, along with equipment to protect health-care workers valiantly risking their health to save others.

I’m sure industry will do everything possible to respond. But why, two weeks after Canada’s first COVID-19 case was identified on Jan. 25, did the government sent 16 tonnes of that same personal protective equipment to China? And isn’t it ironic that the private sector is being asked to make up for the failure of a government monopoly ideologically opposed to its involvement?

Dr. Andy Thompson, a respected rheumatologist with Ontario’s Arva Clinic and an associate professor of Medicine at Western University in London, Ont., publishes a daily blog sourcing data from national health authorities that compares the spread of COVID-19 in Italy, Spain, Germany, France, U.K., U.S. and Canada. The comparisons are alarming for Canadians.

Because countries are at various stages of the pandemic, the comparison standard is from the date that 150 cases are detected. For Canada, that day was March 12. By March 30, Canada had 7,708 confirmed and probable cases, making our cases per million population about the same as the U.S. and Italy at their 150-case mark. As of March 30, cases were doubling every four days. If that rate continues, our cases will become 92,496 in just two weeks.

And here’s where our lack of available treatment capacity comes into stark perspective. At the 150-case mark, Canada ranked second highest in cases per hospital bed behind overwhelmed Spain.

Canada’s doctors, nurses and other health-care workers are world class and highly dedicated. We know they will risk their health doing everything possible even as they face an egregious lack of facilities and equipment.

They deserve our support, consideration and admiration.

But once this crisis is behind us, Canadians must demand that Canada’s hopelessly dysfunctional and dangerous government-monopoly health-care system be opened to private sector competition, like every other country in the world.

Gwyn Morgan is a retired Canadian business leader who has been a director of five global corporations.

© Troy Media

About Mel Rothenburger (7468 Articles)
ArmchairMayor.ca is a forum about Kamloops and the world. It has more than one million views. Mel Rothenburger is the former Editor of The Daily News in Kamloops, B.C. (retiring in 2012), and past mayor of Kamloops (1999-2005). At ArmchairMayor.ca he is the publisher, editor, news editor, city editor, reporter, webmaster, and just about anything else you can think of. He is grateful for the contributions of several local columnists. This blog doesn't require a subscription but gratefully accepts donations to help defray costs.

5 Comments on MORGAN – Canada’s hospital system is ill-prepared for COVID-19 crisis

  1. Jennie Stadnichuk // April 5, 2020 at 1:23 PM // Reply

    I agree with the four above comments and point out that G Morgan fails to examine closely some systems he admires: “The lowest performer? The United States, even though it spends the most. “And this is consistent across 20 years,” said the Commonwealth Fund’s president, David Blumenthal, on Friday at the Spotlight Health Festival, which is co-hosted by the Aspen Institute and The Atlantic.
    Blumenthal laid out three reasons why the United States lags behind its peers so consistently. It all comes down to:
    A lack of insurance coverage. A common talking point on the right is that health care and health insurance are not equivalent—that getting more people insured will not necessarily improve health outcomes. But according to Blumenthal: “The literature on insurance demonstrates that having insurance lowers mortality. It is equivalent to a public-health intervention.” More than 27 million people in the United States were uninsured in 2016—nearly a tenth of the population—often because they can’t afford coverage, live in a state that didn’t expand Medicaid, or are undocumented. Those aren’t problems that people in places like the United Kingdom have to worry about.
    Administrative inefficiency. “We waste a lot of money on administration,” Blumenthal said. According to the Commonwealth Fund’s most recent report, in the United States, “doctors and patients [report] wasting time on billing and insurance claims. Other countries that rely on private health insurers, like the Netherlands, minimize some of these problems by standardizing basic benefit packages, which can both reduce administrative burden for providers and ensure that patients face predictable copayments.” In other words, while insurance coverage in general is great, it’s not ideal that different insurance plans cover different treatments and procedures, forcing doctors to spend precious hours coordinating with insurance companies to provide care.
    Underperforming primary care. “We have a very disorganized, fragmented, inefficient and under-resourced primary care system,” Blumenthal added. As I wrote at the time, in 2014 the Commonwealth Fund found that “many primary-care physicians struggle to receive relevant clinical information from specialists and hospitals, complicating efforts to provide seamless, coordinated care.” On top of a lack of investment in primary care, “we don’t invest in social services, which are important determinants of health” Blumenthal said. Things like home visiting, better housing, and subsidized healthy food could extend the work of doctors and do a lot to improve chronic disease outcomes.
    Together, these reasons help explain why U.S. life expectancy has, for the first time since the 1960s, recently gone down for two years in a row.”

  2. Pierce Graham // April 5, 2020 at 8:22 AM // Reply

    We need to stop looking at health care as an opportunity for profit, and see it as a humanitarian benefit of being human and caring! Leave the profit motive for the gamblers, not the carers. Pierce Graham

  3. Lesley Lloyd // April 3, 2020 at 8:38 AM // Reply

    I have a sister-in-law who works in the health care system, both private and public. When the gov started cancelling non-essential services, the private clinic continued to do procedures that were completely unnecessary at the time. Dollars before safety!

  4. The simplest rebuttal to this simplistic argument is to point out that the US has private healthcare. Yeah, I sure we wish we had that. NOT.

    Instead of further privatizing public services, which would only exacerbate the problems, we need to properly fund our healthcare system and reduce our waitlists. It should have been done years ago, but the corporate agenda now holds too much sway in our governments.

    I am hopeful that this crisis will force all of us to rethink the path we’re on as Canadians. Do we want a compassionate society where the cost of looking after the sick and vulnerable is shared by all (with those most able to afford it paying a greater share)? Or do we want to continue on the path of dismantling the safety net that is a hallmark of our Canadian identity?

  5. Here they come wanting to pound on every opportunity they can get to shill out for the corporate interests. Corporate interests internalize profit and externalize everything else. Untold number of examples are readily available and it can easily be argued the world is a mess, Coronavirus notwithstanding, because of corporate interests. I personally find the writings of Gwyn Morgan unnerving and I wish the Armchairmayor would not give this guy a platform to spew his rhetoric.

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